N.J. officials weigh in on Assembly speaker's Atlantic City bill

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Assembly speaker Vincent Prieto (D-N.J.) says under his version of an Atlantic City rescue bill, casinos would pay $120 million a year to stabilize the resorts tax base and create a five-member planning committee. (WPVI)

Assembly speaker Vincent Prieto (D-N.J.) says under his version of an Atlantic City rescue bill, casinos would pay $120 million a year to stabilize the resorts tax base and create a five-member planning committee.

That group - including the mayor, council president and three state representatives - would develop a 5-year financial plan with specific benchmarks that must be met. After two years, if those benchmarks are not met, the committee would have the power to sell assets, cut city departments and break union contracts.

"This is a compromise. Everybody has skin in the game, so it's not like everybody says, 'I'm protected for life,' " said Prieto.

Mayor Don Guardian (R-Atlantic City) supports the bill, and told lawmakers if the city can't straighten itself out in 5 years, the state should take over.

"The difference between this bill, and the Takeover Bill is the difference between a democracy and dictatorship," said Guardian.

Guardian says the Takeover Bill, passed by the Senate and backed by the governor, goes too far. But Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) says Prieto's version creates more bureaucracy and delay.

"I am not going to permit the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey to be taken for a ride by Atlantic City," said Christie.

The state house hearing room was packed with union members supporting Prieto's bill, which would delay the possibility of breaking Union contracts.

"It protects workers in the sense that at least they know that not only will they get a paycheck, they'll have a job," said Sheryl Gordon, AFSCME Council #1.

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-N.J.) does not support Prieto's bill, which he says was written without input from South Jersey lawmakers. He says without some kind of compromise, Atlantic City is moving closer to default.

"You heard from a Republican county executive yesterday that this would be a cataclysmic for Atlantic County, and I'm telling you it would be apocalyptic for South Jersey," said Greenwald.

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